As more and more stories come out about the damaging effects playing tackle football can have on the human body, the NFL and college football continue to look for ways to make the game safer to ensure its longevity.
Another harrowing story came out Wednesday about the dangers of playing tackle football, this time from former 49ers linebacker Gary Plummer.
On the 49ers Insider Podcast with Matt Maiocco, Plummer discussed the health risks of playing middle linebacker in the NFL, and said he estimates he experienced approximately 10 small, or “Grade A,” concussions in every game he played.
“If you’re not getting at least 10 of those a game, as a middle linebacker in the NFL, that means you didn’t play that day,” Plummer said. “I played 250 games. So (with) at least 10 a game, that’s 2,500 concussions.”
Symptoms of a Grade A concussion include “seeing stars, brief confusion and no loss of consciousness,” according to Maiocco. But as Maiocco notes, “it is still a concussion with a potentially devastating cumulative effect.”
Plummer also noted that once fellow linebacker Junior Seau, a friend of his, committed suicide in 2012 and was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), he realized he needed to address his lingering health issues from his days playing football, including headaches, memory problems, sleeping issues, and anxiety.
“I knew I was having some issues, but like a typical NFL guy, you think you’re still invincible,” Plummer said. “After Junior, my wife said, ‘Dude, you got to do something; I don’t want you to be the next Junior Seau.'”
He soon sought help and was diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. He changed his day-to-day routine to include yoga, meditation, playing a musical instrument, and gardening in his backyard while listening to classical music.
Though it took time, he says the changes have improved his quality of life.
“It was not overnight, by any stretch of the imagination,” Plummer said. “It was a long, slow process. But it wasn’t a long, slow, arduous process. It’s not like it was difficult to go to yoga. It’s not like it was difficult to go outside and listen to classical music while gardening.
“But I felt myself not only getting better at the time I was doing those things, but it then became the cumulative effect of, ‘Hey, there’ve been a few days where I didn’t have a headache.’ Or, ‘There’ve been a few days where I’ve been able to sleep through the night.’ And those were momentous occasions for me. It’s been amazing that I literally feel like a new man.”
Plummer also appealed to other former NFL players experiencing health issues to get help.
“I encourage anyone that knows any professional football player out there to let them know, ‘don’t be a victim,'” Plummer said. “If I can have 2,500 concussions and come back from it, guys that played the average of three years, so maybe they had 150 concussions, you can come back from it.”
Plummer, a 12-year NFL veteran, played for the 49ers from 1994 to 1997 and won Super Bowl XXIX with the team in January 1995.